Orange wine, often otherwise known as skin-contact wine or amber wine, is essentially a white wine that has been macerated with the skins of the grapes. It is a very popular style of wine in the natural wine movement.
To understand the difference of orange wines, it’s important to first understand how red and white wines are generally made.
In its most basic explanation, white wines are (usually) made from white grapes, which are quickly pressed to allow the juice to not be in contact with the grape skins. The liquid is then fermented into wine, over a course of differing techniques.
Red wine is instead often instead left to ferment with the skins of the grape for a period of time. This means that the tannins, which are found on the skins of the grapes, are present in the fermentation and end result of the wine, which they are not on the white wine. This is why red wines usually have noticeable tannins, and white wines generally do not.
Orange wines however are white wines, which are made using the skins of the grapes (so like a red wine). This not only give the wine a tannic structure (depending on the maceration time) but also affect the colour and the taste of the wine, as a lot of flavour is found within the skins.
How do Orange Wines taste?
Orange wines can vary in the flavour characteristics, and the maceration time and type of grape is of course very important.
Orange wines can be very serious and complex, whilst others can be highly drinkable with the right production methods, sometimes like juice.
They often feature a citrus peel note, as well as sometimes a sort of nutty aspect.
Some skin-contact wines can have a medicinal twang and some are spicy.
There are producers who use techniques to soften the more serious tannic elements and make orange wines more drinkable and easy-going, which we will reveal below.
There are also some grapes which really come alive more with skin-contact production, for example Pinot Gris (a unique coloured grape resulting in a slightly pink wine) or aromatic grapes like Malvasia and Gewürztraminer.
Which regions are known for Orange Wine?
Often referred to as the birthplace of wine, Georgia has a long tradition of orange wine, where they refer to the style as Amber Wine.
Here traditional Qvevri / Amphora are often used as the sole vessel for fermenting and holding the wine, which are usually buried in the ground. Notable producers include Pheasant’s Tears, Iago’s Winery, GoGo Wine and Iberieli.
Inspired by Georgian Qvevri and deciding to bring them to a different country, some of the first producers bringing the Georgian style to Europe, were found in Italy’s Friuli Venezia Giulia region. These pioneer producers include Gravner and Radikon, whose legendary wines we would consider ‘serious’ and ones which really showcase the complexity of wines made using skin-contact.
There are however by now many, many producers using skin-contact techniques all over the world, and you can find many of these orange wines on our website here.
Natural wine for beginners
If you have never tried an orange wine before, we would suggest trying an easy drinking style and then exploring one of the more serious wines as well.
Delicious Austrian blend of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder) and Welschriesling. This is an easy going skin contact wine with that unique, aromatic twang of Gewürztraminer, but feeling less intense than a full-on 100% Gewürztraminer wine. Soft, refreshing and enjoyable, especially in the afternoon sun. Serve chilled.
A good example of a macerated Pinot Gris. This one has a colour coming out between pink and orange. Expect notes of herbs, earth, raspberry and white pepper expressing themselves in this easy going, yet also complex summer sipper. Delicious!
An iconic Austrian producer from the Styria region, Sepp & Maria Muster put great care & love into harvesting their grapes, and this blend of Welschriesling and Chardonnay (referred to as Morillon locally) is an exciting skin-contact wine which is sold in a clay bottle. Very special indeed, and very suitable for aging.
A real pioneer in the Fruili region of Eastern Italy (right by the Slovenian border), Saša Radikon makes most of his bottles in the 500ml format. Using amphora and the local grapes, these wines are complex, intricate and serious, with excellent aging potential. This Oslavje 2013 is made using grapes of Chardonnay & Sauvignon Blanc. Radikon is by far one of the most famous orange winemakers in the world and a legend in the natural wine scene. Everyone should try these wines, but keep in mind - they are serious and not for all tastes.
Books about Orange Wine
For further reading on Orange wines, check out the book ‘Amber Revolution: How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine’ by Simon J Woolf (aka The Morning Claret).
This wonderful book includes profiles of 180 of the best producers from 20 countries worldwide and is crammed full of all the information you need to find the best orange wines worldwide together with tips for how to buy, enjoy, food-match and age them. We highly recommend it!